Saturday, May 24, 2008

Texas education board passes new standard with 'no opportunity to review it'

Texas education board passes new standard with 'no
opportunity to review it'

02:50 AM CDT on Saturday, May 24, 2008

Associated Press

AUSTIN ˆ The State Board of Education's debate on new
English and reading standards took another rowdy turn
Friday as members approved a never-before-seen version
of the lengthy document which materialized less than
an hour before the board was to take a final vote.

After a wacky and terse debate on the new curriculum,
the board voted 9-6 in favor of the new version, which
will remain in place for the next decade and sets
standards for state tests and textbooks, as well as
classroom teaching.

Experts and teachers have been working on the new
curriculum standards for two and a half years.

"I find it's really wild that we can work for three
years on a project and then the board is so qualified
they can pull it out of their hat overnight," said
board member Pat Hardy, a Fort Worth Republican who,
like other board members, received the substituted
document when it was slipped under her hotel door less
than an hour before their meeting was set to convene
Friday morning.

Some social conservatives on the board prepared the
latest version overnight.

"I'm appalled by the process that we've taken part
in," said board member Bob Craig, a Republican from
Lubbock. There's been "no opportunity to review it, no
teacher group is involved, not even the (Texas
Education Agency) staff was involved or had seen it."

A day earlier, the board gave tentative approval to a
version of the curriculum created largely by
StandardsWork, a company hired to facilitate the
revision process. The move angered teachers and more
moderate board members who preferred a version crafted
by a working group of teachers appointed by the board.

The primary disagreements between the two factions
were on how grammar and reading comprehension should
be taught in schools.

The new version was presented to board members as a
compromise, which addressed some of the teacher's
concerns. Still, critics on the board were reticent to
accept the explanation.

"How am I supposed to vote on a document when I've had
it in my hands for slightly over an hour?" asked
angered board member Mary Helen Berlanga, a Democrat
from Corpus Christi. "How are we supposed to reply to
our constituents? I don't understand that. I can't
support a document that I haven't had a chance to

Teacher groups complained that the curriculum was a
patchwork and poorly written, but largely withheld

"It's really hard to say since nobody has seen it,"
said Jennifer Canaday, a lobbyist for the Association
of Texas Professional Educators. "They were rushed by
the chairman through a review of the changes. We were
told by the authors of the document that it is
supposed to contain sections from the teachers work
group version and others from the Standardswork
version ... but again nobody's seen it, so it's hard
to say for sure what's in there."

After first saying he would not give board members
time to go over the new document during the meeting,
Chairman Don McLeroy, a Republican from College
Station, eventually relented, allowing a quick run
through of the new document with an explanation of the

But the squabbling did not end there.

"Mr. Chair you're going so fast ... you're moving so
fast we can't find it in the other document," Berlanga
said, shortly after the page-by-page explanation

After more complaints, McLeroy declared that he would
continue at the fast pace.

"The ruling is you're being dilatory in dragging this
out," McLeroy said.

"I'm voting against it. I'm sick of this," replied
board member Mavis Knight, a Democrat from Dallas,
moments after the discussion started.

Critics said Friday's display illustrated
long-simmering dysfunction on the board.

"The state board is split between members who respect
the opinions of teachers and education experts and ...
other members who clearly don't," said Kathy Miller,
president of the education watchdog group Texas
Freedom Network. "So this board is increasingly unable
to complete tasks with efficiency and a respect for
informed debate and expert opinion.

"This is not how you develop smart education

Conservatives lauded the new curriculum.

"It is obvious that too many Texas public school
students aren't learning the basics with our current
curriculum," said Brooke Terry, education policy
analyst for the conservative Texas Public Policy
Foundation. "We are glad the new curriculum will
emphasize grammar and writing skills."

Science curriculum, which includes the divisive
teaching of evolution, is next up for review by the

"It does not bode well for any of us with the science
(curriculum) review coming up," Canaday said.
"Everyone I spoke to about this week's meetings asked
me why on earth would English be considered a
controversial subject. If it's this difficult to
change the English curriculum, it's just going to be a
war when it comes time for them to try to agree on
science standards."

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